Malware Part 2, What About Macs?

What About Other Operating Systems?

“But what about Macs?” You ask. “I’ve heard that Macs don’t get viruses.”

That’s both true and false. The bad news is that there are viruses that target Macs as well as the software designed to run on them. The good news is that there aren’t enough of those viruses to worry about. Not yet, anyway.

The first computer virus to attack personal computers targeted the MacIntosh Apple II, but after the 1980’s MacIntosh’s share of the computer market declined dramatically. Most viruses today are created to make money for someone, and they know that they’ll make a lot more money by targeting the masses of Windows users than they would if they spent all their time trying to steal from the relatively fewer Mac users. Macs aren’t inherently immune to computer viruses. There just aren’t very many Mac viruses out there right now.

The other bad news is that Macs are expensive. Mac OS X is designed to be easy to use and maintain, and you will be much safer from viruses on a Mac. They are better at some tasks, such as video editing, than a Windows-based PC. However, you can buy a lot more processing power in a Windows machine than you can in a Mac for the same price. Over the last ten years Mac OS X and Windows have been getting more and more alike, and Macs are now built on Intel hardware. I predict that in the not too distant future, most of their differences, including the price and, unfortunately, Mac’s virus resistance, will disappear. The two operating systems will look alike, run on the same hardware, and have many of the same vulnerabilities.

If you’re really ambitious, you could install some variant of UNIX or Linux on your computer. Many of those operating systems are free and some of them are very attractive and easy to use. They are also quite virus resistant for the same reason Macs are, but even more so. If Macs have a small share of the personal computer market, then Linux has a minuscule share. The reason is simple: You get what you pay for. When you spend $100 or more on Windows or $29 on Snow Leopard (It’s the hardware that costs, not the operating system.), you’re paying the salaries of an army of programmers and technical support people who work nonstop to make Windows and Mac OS X friendly and easy to use. If you install Ubuntu or Suse Linux, you are essentially on your own. There are a lot of people out there who are willing help, but they don’t get paid. They help because they love to play with computers and want you to do the same. If you ask them for help they will expect you to put as much work into making your computer work as they do. If you aren’t willing to dive into the technical details of device drivers and open source code, then you should probably steer clear of UNIX and Linux.

No computer is completely safe from viruses no matter what you run on it. I recommend you use what works for you. If you can afford a Mac, and you like the programs that run on it,then buy a Mac. If you’re operating on a budget, you can buy a great computer with Windows 7 for just a few hundred dollars, but be sure to install some antivirus (AV) software. If you’re a serious techie, and don’t mind the lack of software and drivers, you should give Linux a shot. You might actually like it!

Whatever operating system (OS) and applications you use, the only way to stay completely safe from malware is to completely isolate your computer. Unplug the network and the modem, disable the USB, firewire, and serial ports, and never use removable media of any sort. In other words, turn your computer into a door stop. You can’t avoid all hazards. The best you can do is manage them and minimize the damage they can do.

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